By Desiree Caluza
BAGUIO CITY—The parade of floral floats in the 17th Panagbenga (Baguio Flower Festival) impressed Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. so much that he wanted to encourage everyone to plant flowers.
“Panagbenga is the symbol of the rise of Baguio,” Jimenez said, enabling the summer capital to aspire for the title of Asia’s flower capital.
“We should encourage people to plant more flowers not only during [the months leading to the celebration of] Panagbenga but also [throughout the year, so that] when tourists come [to] Baguio, they would see flowers blooming everywhere,” he said on Sunday on the sidelines of the parade.
Although the festival has promoted flowers since its establishment in 1995, the blooms are actually grown and sold by farmers in neighboring La Trinidad, Benguet.
The festival was designed in 1995 by John Hay Poro Point Development Corp. (JPDC, now John Hay Management Corp., or JHMC) to draw back tourists to the city, which had to rebuild following the 1990 Luzon earthquake, a company statement said.
JHMC credits lawyer Damaso Bangaoet Jr., JPDC vice president, for conceptualizing the festival. The first festival was staged in February 1996.
Jimenez said the flower festival was one of the many Philippine festivals which the government has been marketing to the international market. He said the government expected to draw to the country this year up to 4.2 million foreign tourists.
The Department of Tourism (DOT) seeks to attract 10 million tourists by 2016, the tourism chief said.
Asked about the new DOT slogan, “It’s More Fun in the Philippines,” Jimenez told reporters that it was working because it was generating awareness and recall among locals who wanted to explore the country and among foreign tourists.
Jimenez said improving tourism infrastructure was also a priority, with the government setting its sights on the repair and construction of provincial airports within two and a half years to increase tourist arrivals.
Mayor Mauricio Domogan said: “[Jimenez’s proposal] is a challenge to us and a big obligation. We should [train ourselves] to plant flowers in any available space for us to justify [that title], and for us to earn the [distinction] of having the best festival [in the Philippines].”
Anthony de Leon, the chairman of the festival’s executive committee, said Baguio could heed Jimenez’s challenge given the city’s role as a major trading center for Cordillera’s flower growers.
Sunday’s floral floats parade, the highlight of the Panagbenga, drew thousands of visitors who gathered along the parade route on Session and Harrison Roads as early as 6 a.m.
A group of tourists from Metro Manila started occupying a section of a sidewalk on Session Road as early as 3:30 a.m., about five hours before the floats rolled down the streets.
“The waiting period was longer than the parade itself,” said Zen Kurosawa, a resident of Metro Manila.
Domogan said tourists made up the audience of the parade, which began with the street dancing competition on Saturday.
“Only a few residents of Baguio watched the parade on the streets. Most of the people who watched were outsiders. Baguio people watched the parade on television,” Domogan said. “Maybe [the residents decided to] give way to the tourists.”
Battle of networks
Like in previous years, the parade of floral floats this year became the battleground for competing television networks.
ABS-CBN’s float featured its “Showtime” stars Vice Ganda, Jhong Hilario, Kim Atienza, Ryan Bang and musicians Jugs Jugueta and Teddy Corpuz.
On-and-off screen couple Dingdong Dantes and Marian Rivera rode GMA Network’s float, while Valenzuela Councilor Shalani Soledad, actresses and hosts Gelli de Belen and Amy Perez, comedian Arnell Ignacio and comedienne Tuesday Vargas were featured on TV 5’s float.
IBF light flyweight champion Johnriel Casimero was on a float sponsored by a rubbing alcohol brand.
Among the floral floats that wowed the crowd were the city government’s “Angry Birds,” the Baguio Country Club’s “Star Wars” and SM City Baguio’s dragon-inspired float.
The festival gave business establishments along Session Road an opportunity to cash in on the event, with several restaurants and fast-food chains offering their balconies, verandas and window-side tables for reservations to festival-goers on Saturday and Sunday.
The restaurants required diners to consume between P2,000 and P3,000 worth of food per window-side tables.
One restaurant started advertising early. In January, it tapped its Facebook page to offer window-side tables to locals and tourists for P180 a plate.
The reservation was good from 7 to 11 a.m., which coincided with the street dancing competition and the floral floats parade.
A fast food chain reserved its balcony for guests of a local hotel. It charged P3,000 for two hours, from 8 to 10 a.m.
Reports from the Baguio-Benguet Public Information and Civic Action Group said at least 15 people sought medical assistance, most of them complaining of hypoglycemia [symptoms include palpitations, nausea, and weakness due to low blood sugar] and hypertension.
Bus hit car
Many volunteer groups securing the festival rushed to Marcos Highway in the final stages of the parade because of a road accident at 10:20 a.m.
A Lizardo bus bound for Aurora hit a car after its driver lost control of the vehicle. The bus lost its brakes along Sitio Bontiway in Tuba, Benguet, police said.
Senior Police Officer 3 Marcial Carlos said the bus driver, Eduardo Sawig, switched lanes to avoid hitting a vehicle in front of his bus but hit the car on the opposite lane instead.
The car’s driver, Leanalfonso Cervantes, and three of his passengers, were hurt, Carlos said. With reports from Vincent Cabreza, Aifa Fernandez, Colleen Tobias, Conrado Simon, Chaitanya Martin and Jennifer Reyes, Inquirer Northern Luzon